Week 9 is all but behind us and as we get towards the final stretch of the Fantasy season, we are forced to make more and more important decisions. Should you start Mark Ingram or Tim Hightower? Is Ben Roethlisberger an automatic start? Will Blake Bortles continue to be a garbage time monster? Your answer to questions like these will likely determine your fate each week. No one is going to get them all right, you just need to be right more often than your opponent. If you’re reading this column, here’s hoping you did just that.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Is Matt Ryan the Fantasy MVP right now? He wasn’t even drafted in quite a few leagues. His ADP was 18th among quarterbacks. He’s a must-start now, and he just might lead you to a championship. The Falcons are hopeful that Tevin Coleman (hamstring) will be able to return to the team Week 10 versus Philadelphia. I’m not sure you want to play a running back for Tampa. Doug Martin is still out with a hamstring injury. Charles Sims is out with a knee injury. Jacquizz Rodgers is out with a foot sprain and now Antone Smith is gone for the season with another knee injury. Yikes. The good news is that Martin is expected to practice this week and possibly play next weekend. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans were also banged up during the game. Winston suffered a knee injury but isn’t expected to miss time. Evans suffered a concussion but the extra time off should see him cleared to return also.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Although his final numbers looked decent for Fantasy owners, Ben Roethlisberger lived up to his past history in his first game back from injury. He was awful during the first half, enough so that there was speculation that he may be pulled from the game. He heated up during the second half, however, and proved that he is indeed over the knee injury. He’s a safe start next week versus Dallas. Joe Flacco did leave this game for a bit but it was only because his knee brace needed some work; his knee was fine. Steve Smith returned and had four receptions for 47 yards. The wide receiver you want to start every week is Mike Wallace. He’s a big play waiting to happen but more importantly, the Ravens will give him multiple opportunities to hit those big plays in each game.
Dallas at Cleveland
Is Dak Prescott now a must-start quarterback in Fantasy? If not, he’s really close. Dak is putting up big numbers without truly using his outside receivers. Just wait until he takes advantage of some one on one matchups for Dez Bryant. Teams will continue to stack the box trying to slow down Ezekiel Elliott, which will eventually open up some big plays to Dez. On a more serious note, if Alfred Morris is available in your league, you may want to claim even if you’re not an Elliott owner. With all the information coming out about the abuse allegations involving Elliott, you may want to grab Morris just in case the NFL decides to suspend him. The Browns made the right decision to start Cody Kessler over Josh McCown. They know that McCown is not the long-term answer; he is what he is, a backup QB. They need to find out what Kessler is. Can he be more than a backup? It may not matter, as it would be a stunner if they didn’t draft a quarterback with the first overall pick in next year’s draft. (Yeah, I’m going out on a limb here and saying they will finish with the worst record in the NFL.) Corey Coleman returned, and while he got off to a slow start, he’s safe to get back into your lineups if you normally would do so.
Jacksonville at Kansas City
Yes, Blake Bortles is not a good NFL quarterback, and may never be one, but for Fantasy purposes you could do worse. He won’t be Top 10 going forward, but won’t be a bench either. How many owners started Chris Ivory this week? I’ve been one of his biggest supporters but benched him in the three leagues I have him in this week. Yeah, I’m about ready to cry or go on a homicidal spree. Sure, I’ll probably start him again next week and just wait for my 32 yards on nine carries. Enter Charcandrick West. We all recommended him after Spencer Ware (concussion) was declared out, and he laid an egg. It happens; he is their third string RB for a reason. Jeremy Maclin left the game with a groin injury. He’s been a disappointment anyway, no matter who is behind center. Nick Foles started over Alex Smith (concussion) but he played the same role; game manager, dink and dunk. I would expect Smith to get the job back when healthy enough.
Jets at Miami
The Ryan Fitzpatrick era may once again be coming to an end but this time by injury. He will have an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his knee injury. Coach Todd Bowles stated, however, that if healthy, he will start. Brandon Marshall owners are just thrilled. Matt Forte owners have to be scratching their heads a bit. Fantasy-wise he was very good Sunday, but why did the Jets only run him 12 times? He was averaging 7.7 YPC. Feed him. Jay Ajayi didn’t rush for over 200 yards, bench him. Just kidding. He’s an RB1 and a must-start. It really is amazing how much better a back will look when he has a healthy and talented offensive line.
Philadelphia at Giants
A couple of early interceptions forced Carson Wentz to put the ball in the air early and often. He threw the ball into the secondary much more often than he did versus Dallas last week, and it paid off with 364 yards passing. The problem for Philly is they don’t have a true number one wide receiver or number one running back. Once they acquire them, this will be a pretty good offense. I’ll bet they wish they would’ve kept DeMarco Murray now. They would be a completely different team with him. The Giants did try to get Paul Perkins more involved in the running game. He and Rashad Jennings were the only two backs to rush the ball and each had 11 rushes. Neither did much with the opportunities but if the Giants are feeling more comfortable with Perkins and his ability to pick up the blitz, he could see more and more of the rushing load. One of the reasons the Giants’ passing offense hasn’t taken off is that defenses are not worried about the run game at all.
Detroit at Minnesota
This was always going to be a tough game for Detroit, to go into that stadium versus that defense, after a tough loss on Monday night. Kudos to the Lions for prevailing. The fact that Theo Riddick only caught one pass was surprising. Golden Tate caught a truckload of passes, but until the game winning touchdown, they were all of the short variety. PPR owners didn’t care, though. Marvin Jones was never going to be a good play against that secondary. Life will get better for Jones. Minnesota’s change of coordinators didn’t have the desired effect. The bottom line is that outside of Stefon Diggs, there really isn’t a top notch offensive player on Minnesota, and even saying Diggs is top notch may be pushing it a little. Yes, Kyle Rudolph is a TE1, but he’s not a gamebreaker, and he’s not someone you have to game plan around. A broken and injured offensive line doesn’t help matters either. On the bright side, Cordarrelle Patterson is proving that he may be useful once again in deep leagues, but a dropped TD pass on the final drive of regulation doesn’t make me want to run out and claim him.
Carolina at Los Angeles
What is going on with the Panthers’ offense? That was a dismal performance Sunday. Cam Newton still doesn’t seem right since coming back from the concussion. Maybe it was just the Rams’ defense in this game, but big plays were few and far between. There was no running game to speak of, which didn’t help any either. The Rams have to start Jared Goff soon, don’t they? It’s not all Case Keenum’s fault. Defenses have bottled up Todd Gurley all season long and the receivers make a lot of mistakes. Wouldn’t it be prudent to find out what you have in Goff? No one will reasonably expect him to be Prescott or Wentz, but isn’t it better to give up the rest of this season than all of next year? Lance Kendricks was the streaming TE to own this week and he lived up to expectations. He can probably be dropped now, however, as he won’t have that good a matchup all that often. Besides, the tight end you had him in for is probably back next week.
New Orleans at San Francisco
Not that you have a choice, but Michael Thomas may be the WR to own on the Saints. He has quietly put up a really good season. He won’t sniff Rookie of the Year due to Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, but he doesn’t have to apologize to anyone. Sunday didn’t do much to clarify the Saints’ running back situation. If Sean Peyton was trying to send a message to Mark Ingram last week, benching him after he fumbled; message received. Ingram had 171 total yards and two touchdowns versus the 49ers. He also didn’t fumble. The problem is that Tim Hightower also looked good. He had 102 yards and a TD. Ingram should remain the starter but Hightower has earned his share of snaps, and will continue to provide good depth at running back for Fantasy owners.
Tennessee at San Diego
Marcus Mariota is looking more and more like he will remain a starter for Fantasy owners for the rest of the season. He threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns Sunday. He also had an interception and a fumble that was returned for a TD. He will learn but the future is incredibly bright. Finding the receiver to own, though, can be a dartboard throw. Overall, I’d rather have Kendall Wright, however, Rishard Matthews seems to be Mariota’s favorite target in the red zone. Derrick Henry left the game with a calf injury. There is no word yet as to the severity of the injury. I wonder if it’s just a matter of time until Travis Benjamin goes on injured reserve. He only had one reception for five yards and left the game at times. It’s obvious that PCL sprain is bothering him. If you need a receiver, I would look to add Dontrelle Inman this week. He could be the number two wide receiver for Philip Rivers very shortly, if he isn’t already.
Indianapolis at Green Bay
As an Andrew Luck owner, I was none too thrilled to see Frank Gore run in two short touchdowns. Oh well, such is life. T.Y. Hilton showed no ill effects from his hamstring injury. Jack Doyle still saw nine targets, even with the return of Dwayne Allen. Donte Moncrief was quiet most of the day but Luck still found him for a TD, just like he seems to do every week. Randall Cobb was a surprise active Sunday. He didn’t play in the first half, looking like a “break-glass-in-emergency type of player.” He did, however, play in the second half and played well. He didn’t look slowed at all by the hamstring and caught a TD late in the game. Ty Montgomery only had seven rushes despite averaging almost eight yards a carry. You wonder if the Packers are afraid he can’t handle a full load. James Starks could return next week, which will further muddle this backfield.
Denver at Oakland
With teams not afraid of Trevor Siemian and the deep passing game, the running game has been non-existent since C.J. Anderson went down. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders catch their fair share of passes, but it’s almost all underneath the coverage. They aren’t dink and dunk passes, but not much better, either. Derek Carr wasn’t great Sunday, but he didn’t make the big mistake to help turn the momentum around. He is a legit Fantasy starter and will be missed next week when Oakland is on bye. Passing on the Broncos may not be easy but you can run right at them, and Latavius Murray did. Murray had over 100 yards rushing and three scores. Hopefully, you didn’t take him out of your lineup because you were worried about the Denver defense.
As always feel free to follow me on Twitter and ask any questions you, @georgekurtz.